Acne occurs primarily during teen years, when a child’s self-consciousness is at an all-time high. Nearly 80 percent of adolescence experience acne to some degree. Girls tend to be affected an earlier age, but acne occurs in boys more frequently and with greater severity. Acne should be treated and, because some of the physical and emotional things can last many years.
Acne originates in areas of the skin where there is large numbers of rudimentary hairs combined with large sebaceous glands, so named because they secrete a thick, oily material called sebum. The majority of these are present on the face, chest, upper back, and shoulders.
The hormonal surges of puberty stimulate the production of sebum, which normally passes uneventfully oil to the face of the skin. Sebum then accumulates into a bump commonly known as a pimple. If the enlarging mass of sebum pushes outward to the skin surface, oxidation – not dirt – darkens the fatty forming a blackhead.
Bacteria on the skin surface gain access to the build-up sebum and multiply, releasing chemical by-products not only irritate the skin, but also attract white blood. The resulting inflammatory reaction produces prominent irritated bumps called pustules or the (and more damaging) acne cysts, which in severe cases can leave disfiguring scars.
Some teenagers develop major acne problems while others are spared is not always clear, but a number of factors are known to aggravate acne:
- Tight-fitting clothing or headgear. Wet suits, helmets, headbands, and bras that rub skin may provoke changes in the skin area directly below them.
- Picking or scratching pimples and pustules.
- Hot, humid environments that cause heavy perspiration. Sunlight, however, can help some cases of acne, but beware of excessive sun exposure and the risk of burning.
- Some girls have a flare-up of acne before their menstrual periods, in response to hormonal fluctuations, when the outlet of the sebaceous gland becomes more obstructed.
- Medications, including is oniazid (used to treat tuberculosis), phenytoin (Dilantin) and barbitu-rates (used to control epilepsy), and steroids (whether forms prescribed by a physician or andro-gens used inappropriately by athletes to build muscles) may worsen acne instead of helping acne treatment. Some birth control pills improve it, while others will aggravate it.
- Oils and dyes in cosmetics and hair sprays can plug the sebaceous glands, so water-based products are better for people who are prone to acne. Note: The impact of these factors on any given teenager’s skin will vary a great deal.
How Dirt and Diet Affect Acne
Acne is not caused by dirt on the skin, and aggressive scrubbing (especially with abrasive materials) can actually make it worse. A mild, unscented soap should be used daily to remove oils from the skin surface.
The role of diet in acne has been more of a legend than reality. Despite persistent beliefs that greasy or sweet foods turn directly into pimples, dietary changes in fact have not been proven to cause or cure acne in the general population. However, anyone who notices a consistent relationship between a particular food and acne should consider avoiding that food.